Farming feature: What a difference a year can make

Katharine and Jason Salisbury, Suffolk Farmhouse Cheeses Katharine and Jason Salisbury, Suffolk Farmhouse Cheeses

Sunday, August 18, 2013
6:00 AM

This month’s Suffolk Agricultural Association column focuses on the build-up to the BALE awards

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As featured on last Saturday’s County pages, the SAA has launched East Anglia’s premier farming diversification competition, the Best Alternative Lane Enterprise (BALE) award in conjunction with sponsors Ashton KCJ solicitors.,

Entry is open to all farmers who have diversified in an area of their farm or buildings to create a brand new business and the Association is optimistic that this year the 22nd since its inception, will see a bumper crop of entries arrive before the closing date of September 16.

The Association caught up with Katharine Salisbury part of the successful husband and wife team behind Suffolk Farmhouse Cheeses, runners up of the BALE award in 2012. Husband Jason is a member of the SAA Council and together the couple has established a dairy herd of 40 Guernsey cattle and annually traditionally produces 27 tonnes of handmade cheese under three brands, of which half is exported and much finds it way onto the cheeseboards of some of London’s leading five star hotels. They also run a farm shop and have seen a significant rise in retail sales within the year.

“It was a busy Christmas with orders. We have seen growth in our brand and product awareness since the awards and a definite increase in more people seeking local food. It was a tough winter and the farm is now all coming together with several exciting new things happening,” said Katharine.

“We now supply milk to an ice-cream maker based near Bungay and the number of people wanting fresh bottled milk from the farm, has increased, which is really encouraging. We also continue to recycle the whey to feed our pig herd.

“In June we participated in Open Farm Sunday and have really been driving public awareness of our veal. Obviously when you breed cattle, not all the calves are milkers, so we are rearing these calves as rose veal. The public has a reluctance to eat veal but through our farm visits, talks and open days we are able to explain that these are free to roam on the farm, feed on forage, not slaughtered until six months once they are young beef stock and the whole approach is ethical. It has been amazing that once this is explained, people have a different attitude and of course understand that it is a much more humane option for the calf.

“With last year’s dry winter we decided to grow Lucerne for the cattle and then of course the rains came; so we have plenty of forage feed put by!

“Looking back we have worked on every side of the business and synergistically it is all coming together,” she said.

Jonathan Long, judge, sponsor and Agricultural and Estates Partner at Ashton KCJ observed that while more than half of England’s 57,000 farms have diversified in some form, according to DEFRA figures, in his experience, the nature of those schemes have changed considerably during the period the award was first launched.

“Looking at farm accounts in the early 1990s when we started the BALE award, only al minority included significant non-farming income from diversification or ordinary property lettings. Now the majority of our clients have significant non-farming income and are encouraged to spread risk and make the best use of their assets.

“The most common use of diversification would include conversion of farm buildings that have become redundant as farm machinery has got bigger, fewer farmers in the region keep livestock, farm regulation has got tighter and planning policies have become more enlightened. Now that has evolved and changed and we have advised farmers and landowners on a wide variety of diversification projects. Many relate to the use of buildings for office use or residential lettings. Others reflect the growing interest in sourcing local food and drink and the growing use of farm premises as a wedding or events venue.

What is noticeable is that increasingly clients that find success with one type of diversification develop to move into others. Typically but not necessarily, the more successful diversifications are near larger centres of population or good transportation links.

“Diversification often provides opportunities for, or is even initiated by, non-farming members of the family, providing additional income in more difficult and uncertain times, an example being Peter Havers and his highly successful log Cabin Holiday Business at Athelington Hall near Eye where the whole family is involved.

“New diversifications have been inspired by the success of others, encouraged we believe by the BALE award and we look forward with great interest and anticipation to see what this year’s entries will bring,” he said.

The closing date for entries in September 16th and the judging will take place on September 23 and 24.
To download an entry form visit www.suffolkshow.co.uk/competitions. The Awards will be presented at the annual Agricultural Awards dinner to be held at Trinity Park on Thursday October 24.

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